The recent opening of Morcilla in Lawrenceville grabbed our attention because, let's face it, Spanish cuisine is some of the best in the world. After spending our honeymoon in Spain we fell deeply in love with the country and its food, but we lamented the fact that the tapas bar model doesn't really exist in the U.S.
The good news is that Morcilla gets so much right about the Spanish tapas bar experience that if you've ever been to Spain, you'll be giddy with delight and if you haven't, you will want to hop on a plane immediately.
A Tapas Bar Straight Out of Spain
Let's start with the atmosphere and experience. The first thing you'll notice when you walk in will likely be the stunning bar. Behind a glass case on the bar you'll see lots of the different pintxos on offer, and hanging from the high ceiling are about a dozen cured ham legs. These two things are so quintessentially Spanish and set the mood for the whole dining experience.
On our recent visit we sat down in the warm-toned, wood-paneled dining room to a drink menu that further contributed to the Spanish feel with carafes of draft wine, dozens of Spanish wines by the glass or bottle, and Spanish cider on tap. We were in a cocktail mood and chose the Vermut con Refresco and the Collins de Sevilla which were adequate but left us feeling like we should have ordered wine or cider.
Get the Full Experience By Trying a Little of Everything
The expansive menu offers lots of different categories including pintxos, montaditos, croquetas, plates, and platters. The menu could be a little intimidating if you've never had tapas before, but our waitress was helpful in explaining how the menu was structured and the portion sizes for each item.
We ordered a little bit of everything, which is my absolute favorite way to eat out. We started with a few pintxos and montaditos, including the Spanish mackerel and beef tartare which were served on top of small slices of bread. The mackerel seemed like it needed a sauce or a punch of flavor, but the beef tartare was creamy from the cured egg yolk yet bright and acidic from the vegetable escabeche.
Next we had the lomo, cured pork loin, which took us straight back to our time in Spain- but with an epicurean twist. This thin, salty, perfectly fatty lomo was served with a sweet apricot sauce and smokey, charred onions.
Along with the lomo we had the most surprising and delicious dish of the night- the crab churro. Normally in the US we tend to think of churros as greasy and heavy (and covered with cinnamon sugar), but this savory churro was so impossibly light, crispy, and full of sweet, tender crab. The creamy idiazabal cheese fondue was the perfect compliment.
Next we tried a few croquetas, the queso de cabra (goat cheese) and foie gras croquetas. The foie gras ones were rich like you'd expect and served with a sweet and tart rhubarb jam. The goat cheese croquetas were made with a smoked cheese which played well with the sugar and spices in the membrillo accompaniment.
Finally, we ordered two dishes off of the “plates” section of the menu: the pulpo (octopus) and the razor clams. The clams were a bit chewy but had a nice citrus and olive oil sauce that had a hint of sweetness. The octopus in the octopus escabeche was delightfully tender and the acidity of the sauce was countered by the starchiness of the accompanying potatoes and a potato foam.
Throughout all the dishes we could sense an underlying richness and fruitiness of olive oil which reminded us so much of our time in Spain.
Although we were tempted by the churros and frozen creme brulee on the dessert menu, we were pleasantly full from our meal and decided instead on a few sherries from the extensive sherry menu- yet another impeccable Spanish touch to round out the dining experience here.
Sometimes when Americans try to run a tapas bar it ends up being a stale experience, but Justin Severino has made the whole thing come to life at Morcilla. Morcilla is unlike any other tapas bar we've been to in the US. The only thing that would make it more Spanish would be if the tapas came free when you ordered a drink!
Morcilla is located at 3519 Butler Street in Lawrencevile.
Also be on the lookout for hog butchering demos by Justin Severino! We attended one of these at Morcilla and had a great time. Click the previous link for a full review!
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